Helen Shapiro had a big hit with ‘Walking Back to Happiness’.
Going for a walk with my better half is always a day well spent! Saturday was equally joyful walking the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on Cuilcagh Mountain with my favourite son called Cian and then attending the Ulster SFC Preliminary Round of Fermanagh v Tyrone!
We had organised ourselves to be free today for a hike somewhere, destination weather dependent and we always like to do a new trail if at all possible when we have a few hours to complete it.
The bike is still under wraps and hill walking is back in vogue. we are fortunate that we have so many places on our doorstep – there are so may trails in the Blackstairs and across the county boundaries in Wicklow and Laois. It was a last minute decision – after checking the weather forecast to head to the Garden of Ireland for a ramble- with Lugnaquilla on the radar.
However squally showers were forecast and we decided instead to create our own loop walk. Our starting point was Drumgoff Gap.
It may only be the 136th highest peak in Ireland but Croaghanmoira is situated perfectly to gain a view of so much of the Wicklow mountains from Kaideen to Lugnaquilla to the Sugar Loaf, out into the Irish Sea, all the way down the Wexford coast, to the Blackstairs and much farther south to Sliabh na mBan – not forgetting iconic Eagle Hill towering above Hacketstown.
The views were breathtaking. I mean breathtaking. If you aren’t much into hill walking and you had only one hill to climb, I would say the 2kms to the top is the one to take!
As it was only 2kms from the road we decided to follow the route along the ridge of Fananierin and come across to the Wicklow Way to create our own loop back to our starting point. It was sublime. Underfoot conditions were very good along the ridge, bogland, nice and forgiving. This part of the walk is part of the Ballinacor Estate and is private land. Access is restricted as the area is preserved for the protection of the habitat of endangered grouse.
The loop was 11kms in length with 475 metres of climbing and took just under 2 hours. It is doable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
Someone once said “I do the same things I did when I was 12 years old: I ride bikes, I read books, I walk in the woods. And I listen to music”.
For the past 11 weeks and for the foreseeable future I won’t be riding bikes but I will be doing everything else and I can add going to the training field!
John Muir, father of the American National Parks, talked of ‘washing the spirit’ and whether it be on two wheels or two feet there’s a great sense of freedom to be out in untamed nature, to be on your own with your thoughts or none at all..some like to golf but I prefer to seek out new places to visit, new hills to climb and that elation of reaching a peak or covering a distance…
When all the controversy over the proposed Blueway, which was refused by An Bord Pleanála, was in full flow, many of us expressed legitimate concerns about the conversion of the national way marked hiking route, that is the Barrow Way into a hard surface. The Barrow Way is the Irish Trail with the least amount of road walking, as confirmed by the great walking couple, Ellie and Carl who run a fantastic YouTube channel dedicated to trail walking in Ireland.
This Irish Times report may be a game changer for the Carlow route and would give us the best of both worlds – our own greenway through the nicest part of Carlow and retains our walking route along the narrow green corridor of the Barrow Valley, thus protecting its biodiversity, its grass surface, its multi purpose use and its status as an area of special conservation.
Here in Carlow, the O Brien Road seems to be the epicentre for most walking activity. I prefer to take a different approach.
Join me on a virtual 11km walk that takes me away from the crowds and inspires me as I walk to look afresh at my surroundings.
An easy starting point is Askea car park on the O Brien Road. My route takes me away from this busy thoroughfare as much as possible.
The map above shows a 3km radius within which the walk takes place, so no problem keeping within the 5km limit.
There’s approximately 4kms of this route off road so that’s a really nice aspect of in town walking that many aren’t aware is possible. Leave Askea, head over on to the Tullow Road, turn right after the filling station and follow the road around until you meet the River Burrin at The Laurels Housing Estate. When we were kids we followed the ‘cart track’ out to here to get to the Burrin for a swim and adventure. The cart track is long gone but Carlow County Council added a linear park along the River Burrin from Hanover Bridge all the way out as far as the Laurels.
It’s very under utilised and should be better promoted as a walking route.
Just beside the path is an ancient Fairy Fort; fairy forts, fairy trees, were and are a common feature of the Irish country side and God help any farmer or worker who interfered with a fort or a tree – they were faced with a wretched life thereafter! Every community in the country had these locations where ‘ the Fairies’, ‘Leprechauns’, ‘the Little People’, ‘the Good people’ or the ‘Síoga’ lived. There was often white thorn tree present. I had a visitor, a young lady from Canada, arrive at my doorstep a couple of years ago who was obsessed with fairies and she was mad to see fairy forts and all the old places. She was enthralled. We shouldn’t forget or dismiss our history and culture!
The River Burrin was Tramore for many Town families and we have fond memories of trekking up the railway line to the New Burrin and picnicking on top of the hill just above the weir. This is now easier access from close to Éire Óg Club.
Continuing over the road at Éire Óg, the pathway turns to a rough path heading towards the railway line and a very low bridge which you will have to ‘duck’ under to pass. It can be muddy under the bridge but immediately you reappear on the tree lined linear path along the River Burrin. The River is a haven of wildlife with lots of swans, water hens, trout and even salmon which can be spotted at the Hanover Bridge as they may their way up river to their spawning grounds every winter. The path ends at the Gala shop beside the bridge near Woodies. Cross over the road and another path continues into the bus park, keeping you off road and passing the nicely refurbished weir. Aldi is on the opposite side of the River, continue across there Kilkenny Road and into Hanover Park (due a facelift soon) and out onto Kennedy Avenue with the River on your left.
Continue heading along Kennedy Street and onto Castle Hill, turn left down into Mill Lane and take in the views of Carlow Castle, built in the 13th Century by William Marshall.
An incredible fact is that Carlow was the Capital of Ireland for 14 years between 1361 and 1374 when the Exchequer was moved here from Dublin only to return there following repeated attacks on the Town, which was on the edge of The Pale – the area of the country under English rule.
The Castle is unfortunately now in ruins thanks to Dr Middleton who accidentally blew it up in 1814 to build a lunatic asylum. I think he would have been a suitable candidate as the first patient…
After the castle take a left and a short zig zag brings you down to the Barrow beneath ‘Wellington Bridge’. Cross over into Graiguecullen and follow the Killeshin Road out of Town and take a right onto Church Road, rather than follow the boring ring road around Town. Cut back in to the heart of Graiguecullen, up St Clare’s Road and Pears Road, passing the Croppy Graves. How often do we pass by without giving a thought to what it represents… 640 United Irishmen were massacred on Tullow Street and Potato Market by the Yeomenin 1798. Can you imagine the carnage and the scenes in Carlow on that day…..
Head over and cross through the stunning Carlow Town park, take the pedestrian bridge over The River Barrow. We turned our backs on the River for decades but the Council deserve read credit for the beautiful development of the Riverside here.
Head up Cox’s Lane, and over onto Brown Street, a very old part of Carlow Town. At the end of Brown Street, cross into St Patricks College and follow the road around to the rear and complete a lap of the playing field. An oasis in the middle of the Town.
Founded in 1782 St Pats is the 2nd oldest university level institution in Ireland and was for many years a seminary for the Diocese.
With my interest in pilgrimage routes, I’ve been particularly interested in the life of the pilgrim priest Fr Joseph Braughal of Graiguenamanagh who attended the College. He vowed after a serious illness in 1822 to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When he recovered he left Ireland flush with £5 in his pocket, making his way to Paris and then Rome. Illness was to be a constant companion of his for the rest of his life yet he made his way from Rome, via Cyprus to Beirut and then Jerusalem. He returned to Rome via Cairo, where he suffered from fever and dsyentery. 40,000 people died of plague in the city in that year. Sounds familiar now… He eventually arrived back in Carlow in 1838 but returned to Italy to live the life of a hermit and seems to have settled in Monte Cassino. He again pilgrimed to Jeruslem and returned to Monte Cassino where he died in 1850 and was laid to rest near the tomb of St Benedict.
Anyway back to finishing the route, head back out onto College Street, take a left onto Tullow Street and return via Staplestown Road to Askea. Almost 11kms, a rewarding walk with great natural views and some local history to add a bit more interest to your exercise regime! Enjoy!